Film No 10 (2014) : Grease

Grease is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word

grease 1Grease was released in September 1978, the start of my 4th year at secondary school. It was the soundtrack of my mid-teens, sandwiched between Meatloaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell’ and Springsteen’s ‘Hungry Heart’. I’m not sure whether it has ever really gone out of fashion, as it has also been playing repeatedly in the background of my daughters’ teenage years (although her tastes also encompass the somewhat incongruous Eminem!).

The screening of ‘Grease’ which I saw was a Sing-a-Longa performance. For the uninitiated, the concept is really very simple: A host introduces the movie and explains the contents of the ‘goodie bag’ on each seat; a flag to wave at Thunder Road, tissue to accompany ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ etc. Audience members parade on stage to show off their ‘Pink Ladies’ and ‘T-Bird’ costumes and it is staggering to see the lengths to which some folk go to appear as the sexiest Sexy Sandy and coolest Kenickie. As the film plays, the lyrics of all the songs appear on the screen, tempting even the worst singers to join in. Audience participation is encouraged, often with hilarious results.

The film continues to appeal to the teenage girl in lots of us. Of course it has dubious morals – Rizzo has unprotected sex, everyone smokes and Sandy finally wins over her man on a promise of surrendering her virginity. But I’m prepared to sell my feminist principles down the river for the sake of a couple of hours of fun. grease 2

I was surprised to realise that even after 36 years, the words came flooding back. Even the ‘We go together like ramma lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong,  Remembered forever as shoo-bop sha whada whadda yippidy boom da boom’. Shame I can’t remember what I had for breakfast though!

Film No 9 (2014) : La Vie en Rose

La Vie en RoseA stunning biopic of the life of Edith Piaf, powerful French chanteuse who was at the height of her fame in the 1960s. Marion Cotillard won no less than seven ‘Best Actress’ awards (including an Oscar) for this performance and it’s easy to see why. The film is full of power and pathos, Cotillard’s portrayal of the troubled and mercurial Piaf is utterly mesmerising. The film is in French with sub-titles but, for me, the performance in Piaf’s native tongue added to the drama of the movie.

The film traces Piaf’s life from her early days as a the young Edith Gassion in Paris. When Edith is abandoned by her mother, she is taken in by her paternal grandmother who earns her living as the Madame of a brothel. The young Edith is cared for by the prostitutes before being taken away by her father on his return from World War 1. Louis Gassion is a contortionist, but it is his daughter’s idiosyncratic and powerful singing voice which draws in the spectators. A chance meeting with nightclub owner Louis Leplée in 1935 sees Edith proverbially plucked from obscurity – her rise to fame had begun. It was Leplee who gave Edith the stage name La Môme Piaf (‘The Little Sparrow’), later to become simply Edith Piaf.

By all accounts, Piaf was not a conventionally beautiful woman, neither was she easy to work with. It was all about the voice; haunting, melancholic and edith piafpowerful. A combination of drug addiction, illness and personal tragedy took their toll on Edith. She died of liver cancer in France aged just 47.

 I don’t want to give away too much more of the singer’s life story here, as the film depicts it passionately. As to whether the film is accurate in terms of events, I have no idea. But I thoroughly enjoyed the movie – and Marion Cotillard is rather better at impersonating Edith Piaf than I seem to remember Esther Rantzen being!

Film No 8 (2014) : Blue Jasmine

blue jasmineDirected by cinema veteran Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine is not a film you watch for the plot. The story line is straightforward – girl meets rich boy, lives enviable luxury lifestyle. Boy turns out to be a philanderer and a crook and is punished for his crimes. Girl loses everything. Cate Blanchett stars as the delusional Janette, alias Jasmine, trying to rebuild her life after her husband’s imprisonment. With no money or skills, she moves in with her sister and tries to make a new start. Ill-equipped as she is for life without luxury and privilege, Jasmine’s attempts are not entirely successful.

Blanchet’s depiction of Jasmine is flawless. She runs the gamut of emotions from hope, desperation, confusion, embarrassment and rage – wearing her heart on her sleeve, her facial expressions are the window to her soul. It’s obvious that Jasmine has been misguided in her choices, ignoring the myriad warning signs that all was not well with her charmed life. Nevertheless, I was rooting for her to find a way back to the security she craved, even if she didn’t deserve it!

Film No 7 (2014) : Before Sunrise

Before sunriseA close friend whose opinions I value very highly, took a look at my blog so far and suggested that I should add more of the quirky details of my film viewing, such as who I was with and what flavour crisps we ate.

So, this week I visited a friend so that we could enjoy a film together as part of my 50:50 project. We ate salted mixed nuts and a box of Monty Bojangles Ginger Truffles which were reduced to £1.50 in Waitrose. We also had a glass of  white wine which I think, to be honest, might have been sitting open in the fridge for too long.truffles

We watched a 1995 movie starring Ethan Hawke, called ‘Before Sunrise’. Two young travellers meet on a train and decide to spend a night together in Vienna before going their separate ways. They pass the time walking, talking, sharing confidences, sometimes snacking and eventually kissing. He is somewhat arrogant, she has a stereotypically French lisp to her English. Both are gauche, seemingly victims of love at first sight, but fumbling to overcome their initial awkwardness. Hawke is intensely irritating, all mouth and trousers. Celine (played by Julie Delpy) spouts feminist theory and wears a very droopy dress. The plot is skimpy and the film made me think of an ‘A’ level Drama project.

My friend fell asleep with the cat on her lap. Luckily she doesn’t snore.

I watched the rest of the film on my own, surreptitiously sneaking in a couple of games of ‘Candy Crush’ on my phone.

Film No 6 (2014) : Captain Phillips

capt phillipsWatching the BAFTAs inspired me to catch up with some recent award winners – Captain Phillips’ actor Barkhad Abdi was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his role as Muse, the young leader of a group of Somali pirates.

The film is based on the true story of an American commercial cargo ship boarded by pirates whilst navigating between Djibouti and Mombasa. The pirates are desperate, but young, volatile and disorganised. Their composure deteriorates throughout the kidnapping; they turn on each other in violent outbursts. When they capture Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) in the ship’s lifeboat as they try to flee, the American Navy mobilises its considerable forces in an attempt to save him and end the stand-off with his captives.

Although I sensed that there must be a positive outcome for Phillips, it was by no means a given. The traumatised captain at the end of the movie is testament to the shocking experiences he has undergone and there are no winners. The film is a grim reminder of the downside of globalisation, with the divisions it creates.

It’s a tense thriller with a fair amount of violence. I find it hard to believe that this film has a 12 certificate – to my mind, it is adult viewing.

Film No 5 (2014) : The Boat that Rocked

boat that rockedRichard Curtis, writer and director of ‘The Boat that Rocked’ has many claims to movie success: I first fell in love with John Hannah as the heartbroken lover in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’! ‘The Boat that Rocked’ is not widely acclaimed as being one of Curtis’ better movies, but it’s still a fun film.
It has an impressive cast list including; Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans and the now sadly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman. ‘Radio Rock’ is a pirate station, anchored in the North Sea and broadcasting non-stop 60s pop to a nation which listens somewhat guiltily to its forbidden pleasures. Back on the mainland the officials, led by Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), are trying to close down the subversive station.
Having been expelled from school Carl (Tom Sturridge), is welcomed on board by his godfather – Radio Rock’s director Quentin (Nighy) and he joins the team of DJs as they drink, smoke, lark about, womanise – oh, and play music. The film starts slowly, but culminates in some action-packed scenes as the station faces ruin. As you’d expect, ‘The Boat that Rocked’ has a fantastic toe-tapping soundtrack and a generally feel-good factor, with some great comedic performances.

Film No 4 (2014) : The Heist

deer hunterthe heistIn my mind, Christopher Walken is a scary bloke – I always remember him wearing that red bandana whilst playing Russian Roulette in ‘The Deer Hunter’. It felt a bit incongruous to see him playing a mild-mannered museum guard in ‘The Heist’. The film has a great cast; as well as Christopher Walken, it stars Morgan Freeman and William.H.Macy (‘Fargo‘, ‘Magnolia‘). Three art museum curators plot to steal two paintings and a sculpture after the museum management decides to move the pieces to Europe.  It is obvious that the would-be crooks’ plans will not go smoothly, and the ensuing mishaps threaten the success of the heist.

But, oh dear, what a slow film. Billed as a comedy and with a cover that depicts an action thriller, the movie is actually a gentle stroll, a comment on the power of art – with a few mild chuckles thrown in.

Film No 3 (2014) : Quartet

quartet 1I’m a bit of a sucker for Billy Connolly and he joins a host of talented actors in this heart-warming film about a group of senior musicians in a retirement home, Beecham House.  Wilf (Billy C), Reggie (Tom Courtenay), and the delightfully ditsy Cissy (Pauline Collins), are  rehearsing for a fund-raising concert to be held at the home on October 10th, Verdi’s birthday. Their plans are thrown into confusion by the arrival of a new resident, soprano and Reggie’s ex-wife, Jean (Maggie Smith). It transpires that these four singers had made up the quartet in a famously successful recording of the aria “Bella figlia dell’ amore” from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto. The plot centres on whether Jean can be persuaded to join the trio for the benefit concert.

Hedsor HouseThe film was directed by Dustin Hoffman and shot at the stunning Georgian Hedsor House in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, a beautiful backdrop to the story. The cast is certainly star-studded and I was not at all surprised to learn from the credits that many of the actors had enjoyed ‘real’ careers as musicians, singers and composers. It’s an uplifting story, reaffirming the fact that later life can be full of fun and laughter. As Dr Cogan (Sheridan Smith) asserts before the final concert ‘their love of life is infectious’.

Movie No 2 (2014) : W.E.

W.E.Directed by Madonna and released in 2012, W.E was not a big hit with the critics, although it was nominated for an Oscar – Best Achievement in Costume Design (losing out to Mark Bridges for ‘The Artist’). The film tells two tales; the historical one chronicles the relationship between Edward and Mrs Simpson, whilst the contemporary plot storyline is that of Wally Winthrop, a childless and unhappily married New York society wife. Their stories interconnect at a Sotheby’s auction of Wallis and Edward’s personal effects in 1998. Although I have not checked, I presume that the story told in flashback, of the King’s romance with the highly unsuitable Mrs Simpson, is based upon fact. There are certainly snippets of authentic newsreel, newspaper headlines and Wallis’ own letters.
Whilst the film does have flashes of brilliance, including the aforementioned costumes and period detail, it nevertheless felt clumsy to watch. Jumping back and forth between Wally and Wallis was awkward and stilted, particularly in the odd moments when Wallis appears seated next to Wally in the modern setting. For a film directed by a world-class pop star, the soundtrack is monotonous and borders on the hysterical when Mrs Simpson leaps up from her chair to entertain her party guests to the Sex Pistols classic ‘Pretty Vacant’!
Overall, I didn’t feel as if it was two hours of wasted time and I remain fascinated by the W.E. story, but I think there are probably far more accurate and compelling portrayals of their romance and marriage than this one.